Jul 072017
 

Dropping off the car with Hertz was nice and easy, and we had already checked in online with the Vueling app, and they were happy to check my extra luggage and we were soon on our way through security. Security was really quick and maybe five minutes, and we still had over an hour to kill before boarding.

No lounge access with Vueling, but there are several Priority Pass lounges in the Barcelona Airport, so we decided to stop in one for some snacks and beverages. The self-serve beer, wine, and liquor was plentiful, but just like my visit a couple of years prior the food selection was rather poor. Oh well, still beats sitting around the terminal for an hour.

Next, off to the gate, where I would see if the excitement of my previous trip on Vueling (also with the purpose of going to Andorra) would be a repeat for excitement.

Vueling flight 3000
Barcelona, Spain (BCN) to Las Palmas, Islas Canarias, Spain (LPA)
Depart 21:40, Arrive 00:15 next day, Flight Time: 3:35
Airbus A321, Registration EC-MLD, Manufactured 2016, Seat 28D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 62,459
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,439,436

Boarding was a rather disorganized scrum, but we soon found our way back to 28D and 28E, our exit row seats. I know we paid a bit extra for this, but for 3.5 hours it was totally worth it. Look at this legroom!

Can’t say too much about this flight. Unlike my last Vueling flight, it was a very quiet three or so hours down to Las Palmas in the dark. The crew spoke very little English, but there was plenty of buy on board available, although I had to repeat my requests in Spanish several times to get what I wanted. My Spanish isn’t good enough to know if they weren’t comfortable in Spanish, or they were amused by my Spanish, or my requests for another beer were strange, but regardless it was a very young and friendly crew.

Perhaps the most excitement came with about 45 minutes in flight when there was an urgent page for a doctor. None was found, but we continued to our destination nonetheless. Couldn’t have been too bad, I guess!

Since it was a domestic flight all we had to do was collect our luggage (which took about five minutes) and find our driver. We had used KiwiTaxi again (which we found out about on a previous trip to Russia) and they were fantastic with having a driver meet us. I’ll stress it again: I love this website so far in multiple countries, and will continue using them. Stay tuned to see how they do for me next month in St. Petersburg, Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Minsk!

Driver was waiting and super pleasant, and soon we were at our hotel, the AC Hotel Gran Canaria. First off, let me say a few things: our rooms were nowhere near as modern as those in the pics. I didn’t see any evidence of the lounge or rooftop pool (although we didn’t look hard) and all the staff we encountered seemed incredibly disinterested and annoyed with any questions we asked.

The room was very comfortable and clean, the AC very cool, but the service was absolutely terrible. For the price, I was still happy with it as a choice – especially given the facilities – but the staff attitudes need a serious makeover!

After a great sleep, we went for a wander to find coffee. The first two places we tried were “closed for holidays” which seemed strange in late May, but we eventually found a little hole in the wall place with terrible coffee and great views:

It was almost noon by this point, so we wandered the beach for a bit more than an hour before giving up and decamping for some proper food. We found a little italian joint with good food, and more importantly…local beer:

The beach views were pretty good I’m not going to lie:

After eating, we walked the beach for another hour or so, but it was really just more of the same:

By this point we were tired again, and retired to the Café Caracas for some espresso…and tasty alfajores:

Odd statue in the lovely park outside the café:

We had noticed the El Muelle Shopping Mall near our hotel, so decided to wander over and check it out. It was pretty sad and anticlimactic, but several stories high and had a great view to the port:

There was also a nice patio bar on ground level, which afforded great views with a beer:

Based on online research, we had been recommended to try Tasca Galileo for dinner. Reviews cast it as a little hole in the wall with just a few tables, but amazing food. It didn’t open until 8pm, but we were advised to be there early to grab one of the few tables. We camped at a nearby place before for a beer, and were there 10 minutes before opening, and I think we grabbed the last table. The whole restaurant seats maybe 20 people, but has amazing food.

I think we ordered six tapas over the next couple of hours between us, and several were delicious. Most memorable were the fried cheese with melon sauce, some great ham, and a wonderful liver dish. The wine selection was also really good and cheap, and the whole experience was amazing. Reviews said they spoke good English, but our “decent” Spanish was enough to not have to try in English. That said, there were some English folks there who seemed to be trying (and managing) in English, so it’s a very tourist friendly place. Can’t recommend it enough!

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a tiny craft beer pub called The Situation. It had an absolutely amazing craft beer list that I totally didn’t expect, and I only wish we’d been there earlier in the day and had room for more than one beer. That said, the one I did have was amazing:

It had been an interesting day of walking on the beach and exploring, but if you’re the type who constantly needs to “do things” I can see how Las Palmas could be a bit boring. It definitely caters to the beach crowd, although we were clearly there the wrong time of year.

Relatively early to bed, because we had to be up early the next morning for our onward travels…

May 112017
 

Woke up around 8am, since we wanted to be at breakfast at 830 right when it opened. We had asked our driver to meet us at 9am, and hoped he would be on time. Well, when we got to breakfast he was already there, and it was the same driver who brought us from Sochi two days prior. I guess he changed his mind and decided to make the trip after all! I never did ask him why he changed his mind, as he’d likely had to leave Sochi very early in order to come get us.

Quick breakfast with him waiting, and I noticed he was chatting with the lady at the front desk. She had kindly already explained to him we needed to make a quick stop at the Ministry of Repatriation on the way out of town to get the visa, and he was ok with that. On the way, I think we almost got hit two or three times, which launched him into a long tirade about the quality of drivers in Abkhazia. Found the ministry by 905a, and luckily they were already open.

Found the room where visas were issued, and there was no wait. We were invited in, the good bureaucrat started writing down all of our information, asked if we would pay together, and then asked for a credit card – never telling us the amount. Based on information I found online, they usually keep your passport, tell you how much the visa is, and then you have to go a couple blocks away to the bank to pay for it. Seems now, as long as you pay with credit card, you can pay on the spot. One problem, I told him, American credit cards won’t work in Abkhazia. He insisted on trying, and it went through no problem on the first try. All told, we were maybe there five minutes, and left with shiny new Abkhazia visas (which incidentally, were never checked after all.)

Not much to say about the drive to the border. We’d made most of the drive twice already, and it was completely uneventful this morning as well.

Got to the border, and were sent out of Abkhazia without much more than a 5 second glance at our passports. Same routine as before on the Russia side. Driver takes the car through, and we walk over to the passenger processing building and queue in line. I went first, and after a few questions from the junior-looking FSB agent (clearly stated on his uniform) he asked me to go have a seat and wait. A few minutes later, Ian got the same treatment. Now, entering Russia from an unrecognized country on a US passport probably isn’t something they see every day, so I figured we were just waiting for a more senior agent to check his work. This was confirmed 10 minutes later when a guy with more stars on his uniform came in, handed us our passports, and said thank you for waiting. Just like that, we were in.

One note: Russia does not stamp you in or out at this border, so there is no documentation of your visit to Abkhazia. Similarly, Abkhazia does not paste the visa in your passport, and they do not stamp your passport. Thus, no problems with getting into Georgia later.

Back in Sochi, and a minute later we drove past some of the Olympics stadiums:

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Made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and check-in was a relative breeze as well. Unfortunately, the Aeroflot agent was having absolutely none of me, and insisted my rolling bag was going to be checked today. Decided not to fight it too hard, and just go with it. After grabbing my first decent coffee in a couple of days, we decided to sit down for some lunch before the flight. Delicious borshch with fresh garlic cloves and meat and a dark russian beer:

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After that, it was through security, where they had the best giftshop ever. I wish I’d been thinking a bit clearer, because I definitely would have bought a few more things. I mean, check out these t-shirts:

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Shapkas, magnets, and even strangely Philadelphia Flyers magnets for some reason. Because…Russia!

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I picked up a couple of magnets for my fridge:

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Unfortunately, Ian got the last one of these:

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We got to the gate just as they were boarding the buses to our plane. For some reason, they had subbed in a 777 on this route a week before this flight, and based on the seatmap online and the buses, it didn’t look like it was even close to a full flight today!

Aeroflot flight 6552 operated by Rossiya
Sochi/Adler, Russia (AER) to Moscow Vnukovo, Russia (VKO)
Depart 14:10, Arrive 16:30, Flight Time: 2:20
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration EI-UNP, Manufactured 1998, Seat 61A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 35,053
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,412,030

The plane was parked at an international gate, which is apparently why we had to take a bus to it. When we got there, Putin’s leopard friend was smiling at us:

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Last row of the plane! I had no idea row numbers even went up this high!

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Yup, it was definitely a light load today, way under half full, and in the back there was pretty much nobody except us!

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Goodbye Sochi!

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Good view of the Olympic venues as we flew out over the Black Sea:

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Only water and a “snack” were offered. Still not sure what this was – one was some sort of chocolate meringue thing, and the other was vanilla.

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Uneventful flight, and with all the space it was almost a pleasant flight as well.

Meow, our plane saying goodbye to us in Moscow:

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After retrieving my bag (which thanks to the elite bagtag actually did come off the plane first) I found the best cafe ever. Coffee and Beer House! My two favourite things (excluding champagne) in one place! We had to stop while waiting on the next Aeroexpress train to the city to arrive.

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After a quick espresso and beer, it was off on the train to enjoy our one night in Moscow!

Mar 192017
 

Got a very good night of sleep, and was all set for a day of adventure ahead. Originally when I planned this trip, I had planned two days in Paris on the return, but when I had to skip the Cape Town side trip, I was no longer able to get the stopover in Paris on the way back. The options were Frankfurt and Munich, and having been to both several times I picked Frankfurt figuring I was likely to have more options for side trips from there.

After playing around on Die Bahn’s website I settled for a sidetrip to Nürnberg. I had really wanted to see Dresden or Leipzig, but spending 4-5 hours each way on the train wasn’t my idea of a good use of time. I’ll save those for another trip later this year when I have more time. I had also wanted a train trip side it had been a long time, and there were still some decent ICE first fares to Nürnberg. It was far from cheap, but at two hours each way with great times, and plenty to see in Nürnberg, I figured it was a good option

Train left super early – around 8a – which meant being up early. The great thing of being at the Sheraton attached to the airport is I just had to walk into the departures hall, and I had my own Starbucks for breakfast and wakeup. There was a good breakfast spread in the Sheraton lounge, so it made for a nice and convenient morning.

Train was about 10 minutes late, and absolutely packed. I didn’t see an empty seat anywhere in my car. Fortunately I got one of the seats on the single side, so no dealing with climbing over people – definitely plus! When I got to Nürnberg I found the machine to buy day tickets for local transit, pulled up google maps, and found out which tram I needed to take to the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände – the Documentation Centre at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

The museum opened in 1994, and the entrance is a long glass and steel tunnel into the front of the building – a creative play by the architect to mock Nazi architect Albert Speer. The place was much busier than I expected for a museum on a Monday, filled with school groups:

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The new Neue Kongresshalle – New Congress Hall – which was never finished. It was intended to seat 50,000 people during rallies and is the largest piece of Nazi architecture still standing.

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I spent about two hours walking through the exhibits, and there was a fantastic audiotour that you could either do a short version, or listen to lots of background in each room. It was an incredibly well-done museum with lots of historical facts as well. It was also slightly chilling given how many parallels were easy to draw to current events in the United States.

After finishing the museum, I went for a walk around the Dutzendteich – or dozen ponds, which are adjacent to the Kongresshall and museum. It was a grey a gloomy day, which somehow seemed appropriate.

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Grandstand at the Zeppelinfeld – or Zeppelin Field. It was one of the first architectural sites build by Albert Speer, and based upon the Ancient Greek Pergamon Altar. On the top of the review stand there used to be a giant swastika that was blown up in 1945 at the end of the war to symbolically show that naziism was over. It got its name because it was the site in 1909 where Ferdinand von Zeppelin landed one of his zeppelins.

 

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Looking out from the top of the grandstand:

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Sideways view when standing on the podium on the Zeppelinfeld grandstand:

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How the site looked in the 1930s and 1940s. Note the giant swastika on the top of the grandstand and the columns which no longer exist:

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From the Zeppelinfeld I continued walking around the water, and got this view of the Kongresshalle from the other side:

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Danger! Crazy-long German word ahead!

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Looking down the Große Straße – Great Road. Over a mile long and 40 meters wide it was a parade route for the Wehrmacht during the annual party meetings. It points toward medieval Nürnberg Castle and the direction was an attempt to link old Nürnburg to the Nürnberg of the Third Reich. After the war ended, the US Army actually used the road as a temporary airfield since so there was so much damage to other infrastructure.

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Outside the Kongresshalle:

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After all this walking I was getting pretty hungry so pulled up google maps again. Figured out how to get to the restaurant I wanted to go to, and there was a direct bus leaving from the museum. Perfect! Between google maps and the daypass transport around Nürnberg was really simple.  Bus dropped me right in the centre of the city near an old church:

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Statue of Albrecht Durer, a renaissance painter from Nürnberg:

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Lunch at the Hausbraueri Altstadthof – great homemade beer and Nürnberg Rostbratwurst with Kartoffelsalat – YUM!

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After lunch went for a long walk back towards the train station, passing the Frauenkirche – a great example of gothic architecture from the mid-1300s:

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Stopped at Starbucks for some caffeine, and had an absolutely terrible view on the Pegnitz River:

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The Wetterhäuschen Lorenzkirche – or St Lorenz church. Ground was broken in 1250, but the church was only finished approximately 200 years later. It was badly damaged during World War Two but later restored:

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Selfie on the Königstraße heading towards the train station:

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Train back to Frankfurt was on time, and once again managed to get lucky and get the single seat. Once again the train was completely full all the way to Frankfurt. Is this the norm lately, or was it because it was a Monday? I haven’t taken many train trips in Germany in the last ten years, but I remember first class on the ICEs used to be relatively empty lots of the time.

Had a quiet evening in Frankfurt just walking through the centre of the city, stopped at a couple of small random bars/restaurants for a beer, and then back to the airport early so that I could turn in. I had a relatively early flight the next morning, and wanted to maximize my time in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal!

Feb 242017
 

It was already late when we landed in Hong Kong, and by the time I took the airport express into the city and checked into my hotel – the W Hong Kong – I was still full enough from eating on the plane that I wasn’t really feeling dinner. Decided instead to go have a good walk around to stretch out the legs and grab a few drinks before checking in for the night.

The W had upgraded to me to a nice suite with ice cold air conditioning, but even with this the jetlag was catching up to me and I was up nice and early in the morning. I went to bed telling myself I wasn’t going to set an alarm just to get up and see the sunrise, but jetlag conspired to wake me up early anyways, so off I went.

I had seen on FlyerTalk from someone who did a similar trip to mine just a couple weeks before that sunrise on The Peak could be awesome, so I caught an Uber up to the top to see if I could see it. Unfortunately, my Uber got slightly lost, so by the time I found the path, the first signs of sunrise were already out. Still was a very dark walk for the first part down to the observation point.

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Sun just moments away from breaking the horizon, with a great view of Hong Kong Harbour.

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Sunrise over Hong Kong, framed by a small tree.

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It’s a beautiful day….

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The sunrise cast a nice glow over some of the skyscrapers.

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Pro tip from Google – ask your taxi/Uber to take you to the top of Lugard Road, and follow it to the observation point.

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Rather than head back the way I came, I decided to walk down from the Peak. I would regret this the next day, with extremely sore calves and glutes from all the downhill.

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Part of the “Morning Trail” down from the Peak.

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Fortunately, we were heading downhill, because I was really starting to feel it in my legs. Just about when I was realizing I wasn’t 21 any more, we passed the Fitness Corner for the Elderly. All these flavours Hong Kong and you had to choose to be salty?!

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Trail eventually ended at the University of Hong Kong, where I had a nice wander through the campus.

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Sun Yat Sen meditation pond.

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Seniors doing Tai Chi in the middle of campus.

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…and I found Starbucks. Perfect end to a nice hike, sitting outside in the cool weather enjoying some coffee.

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After this decided a bit more walking was in order, so walked for another hour or so all the way to the Star Ferry pier. I hadn’t taken the Star Ferry in years, so figured since I was out playing tourist I might as well make the most of it.

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After the ferry docked I ended up taking a short nap while the iDevices recharged, and then it was off for some lunch. I wanted to go back to the Island for lunch, and debated taking the train, but it was so nice out that I decided another ride on the Star Ferry was in order. Heading back to Tsim Sha Tsui:

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Grabbed lunch a fun little brewpub I like called The Roundhouse which serves amazing brisket, then, a bit of wandering the chaotic streets of Hong Kong:

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Taking the mid-levels elevators:

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Typical Hong Kong street scene:

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After a couple more hours of walking, it was back on the crammed rush hour subway to my hotel:

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Met up with a friend for dinner near the hotel before crashing relatively early. It had been a really early morning, and I had to be up very early again the next morning to catch my flight to Singapore. It had been a wonderfully active day, and I forgot how much I’ve missed visiting destinations where you can just spend the entire day walking around. You can’t really do that in Afghanistan, Congo, etc…

Next up, Singapore First Class to Australia!

Oct 032016
 

After being very sleep deprived the past couple of days, slept in a slight bit and managed to make it down to breakfast about five minutes before it ended – just in time for plenty of coffee and small breakfast. Headed out for a walk, and met John and Mark before they had to catch their flight back to Montreal. It was a perfect sunny day, and we sat outside enjoying some coffee on the main street, before sending them off to the airport.

I hadn’t made many firm plans for the last day in Iceland, since people would be trickling back to the airport throughout the day. Mark and Beth were out walking about about to get lunch at a place they had found their first day there, and it looked really good so decided to head that way despite not really being hungry yet. It was a good walk away, but perfect for enjoying the nice day. Met them at Bryggjan Brugghús for some lunch for them, and a flight of beer tasters for me. I decided I was just hungry enough for desert, which was delicious. It was a licorice chocolate mousse with licorice sauce, raspberries, sugared oats, and a sprinkle of sea salt. It was delicious and went well with the four house-brewed craft beers:

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After lunch, Mark and Beth were headed to get Icelandic tattoos, and I figured I would tag along…you know…just in case. They had already made appointments, and without really thinking about it I ended up in the queue as well. Mom decided to head back to the hotel to rest a bit, and Ian hung around to keep us company. When Mark and Beth were done, it was my turn. The artist was Phillip Wolves who had just arrived in Reykjavik to do a guest spot at Reykjavik Ink the day before. Demand for tattoos in Iceland far exceeds local artists so there are lots of visiting artists who come for weeks or months at a time.

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What better way to commemorate being to every country than an outline of iceland with the date September 1, 2016 in Roman numerals and “one hundred ninety-six” in Icelandic:

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After we were finished it had started to lightly sprinkle, so we headed back to the hotel along the water to take in a few sights. We walked past the Sólfairð or Sun Voyager. It was built in 1990 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik:

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Next up was Höfði House. This is where in 1986 Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for their famous summit:

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Near the house is a statue of Einar Benediktsson who was a nationalistic poet that people give a lot of credit to for developing Icelandic national identity:

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After a short rest it was off to a group dinner. It was our last night in Iceland, and also my birthday. I had planned the whole Iceland trip around the fact it would be my birthday as well as a long holiday weekend at the end of summer, and it really worked out perfectly. Beth and Mark had found me a fridge magnet which was a perfect memory of Iceland as well as checking off countries:

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Dinner was at Grillmarkaðurinn which several people had recommended to me as the perfect place to have a celebration birthday / last country dinner with a group of friends. For a starter, I couldn’t resist the “whale, puffin, and langoustine mini burgers” which were super tasty:

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For a main course, the “lightly salted cod” in a lobster foam broth. Amazing:

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It was tempting to get dessert, but we were pretty stuffed by this point and decided to head back to the hotel. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish off my birthday and the every country celebration than with a group of a dozen friends and family. It was truly a super special feeling. I had a super early flight the next morning, and wanted to at least try and get a little sleep.

Dec 182014
 

Not too long of a taxi ride in the pouring rain, and eventually made it to my hotel, the Park Plaza Orchid. I’d booked it because I had lots of Club Carlson points to burn, and I expected a nice hotel of Radisson standards. Unfortunately, that was not really the case. There was nothing particularly wrong with the hotel, it just felt really old and a little…off. The room was ok, bed was comfortable, the AC worked well, etc, it just felt like it was a bit cramped and older. For free, however, it was great.

The staff, however, was a completely different story. Throughout the three nights I was there, the front desk staff was almost universally surly and unfriendly, and although they would answer questions I definitely got the feeling I was a bother each time I asked.  In fairness to them, I did see them dealing with several customers from Hell, who would yell at them and chew them out. Mostly all demanding, nasty stereotypical New Yorkers. Several times I just stood in the lobby and watched the interactions in disbelief that people could be that nasty to each other.

I had about an hour to grab a quick shower and rest up before meeting up with Ian, a reader of my blog from New Jersey who I met via FlyerTalk and who happened to also be visiting Israel at the same time, although staying in Jerusalem. Ian showed up almost on time (thanks to the Israeli train system’s stunning punctuality – I wonder if they hire consultants from Fiji Airways?) and we got ready to head out for Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, it was Thanksgiving, and yes, we were promised dinner. Max, another reader of my blog who I met via FlyerTalk and who lived in Tel Aviv had heard about the dinner through a local events list and thought it looked fun…so recommended it to us. Thanksgiving Dinner in Tel Aviv? Can you GET a more awesome cultural experience? Signed up, paid, and waited.

In the meantime, I did a little research into what I’d actually signed up for. The event was called “My Big Fat TLV Thanksgiving” and was hosted by an organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh. It was one of their activities in their “post Aliyah group” but made no mention of who was welcome. It described a “lively crowd of Young Professionals, Internationals, Israelis and Lone Soldiers for a delicious and traditional Thanksgiving meal with fine Israeli wine and Negev brewed Beer.” There would be beer, I was sold. I was pretty sure we’d be the only non-Jews there…and at this stage I didn’t even know what an “Aliyah” was…so when the event registration asked if I’d made one I decided I probably hadn’t. I wasn’t sure what a “Lone Soldier” was either, but hey, again, beer and turkey were promised.

When we showed up fashionably late, the event was already in full-swing:

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The table was already pre-set with the first course. Some salads, hummus, and wine:

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After maybe 45 minutes or so, the yams, rice, turkey, and stuffing came out:

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Eventually, our table filled up, pretty much with 20-25 year old men with American accents…pretty much all from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Oh, and their one random Colombian friend. They had all “made Aliyah”” and joined the Israeli military. Rather than mangle it, I’ll let Wikipedia define Aliyah: “Aliyah (“ascent”) is the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the land of Israel. Also defined as ‘the act of going up’ or as in progressing towards Jerusalem.” The stories these guys told were pretty fascinating, but all had similar themes. They’d finished high school in the states, wandered about a bit, never really “found their thing” and then came to Israel where life suddenly made sense and had meaning. Several said they’d “found a sense of purpose.”

It was quite interesting dinner conversation. Especially due to the wine. And beer. And when that was gone they found whiskey. Then, one of the servers came around with arak shots. Things were pretty messy at this point. Like 20-25 something males worldwide when the source of alcohol ran out, the conversation turned to where they would go to find more…and where it was cheapest. And where they could pick up some company for the night. We also learned from them that if you really want to find willing companions, you should go to a Kibbutz, because apparently everyone there is on the prowl. The only sign you were in Israel and not the US, is several of them, despite being in street clothes, were toting automatic weapons. I mean, I always put my gun on the Thanksgiving table…don’t you?

Proof there might have been a little alcohol consumed:

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Nov 052014
 

It was getting pretty late by the time I got to the Sheraton, but check-in was quick. I got a small studio suite as an upgrade, and the staff at the front desk was extremely genuine and welcoming. The room was also very nice, and overall for a Sheraton I was extremely impressed.

It was after 9pm at this point, but I wasn’t quite ready for bed, so I asked the concierge if he could recommend somewhere good and local to get a glass or two of wine and some tapas. He was very passionate about his job, and said there was a great little wine bar and bottle shop just down the street called the Melbourne City Wine Shop. It was excellent, and I had a couple of very good glasses of wine and a small cheese plate and called it a night.

After a good solid sleep got up and went wandering for a coffee. I’d been warned that it was sacrilegious to drinks Starbucks in Melbourne since it had so many delicious local coffeeshops, so I picked the first one that looked good and gave it a good. The coffee exchange was delicious, and I got a fantastic cup of Seven Seeds filter coffee and had “The Hipster” for breakfast. I’ll admit I ordered it for the name, but when I saw it had haloumi cheese too I was sold.

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After breakfast I headed out for a good long walk to see the city centre. First stop was Federation Square:

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Flinders Street Station:

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Continue reading »

Sep 222014
 

Plan was to wake up early in order to have a nice casual drive to Barcelona. However, jetlag was starting to catch up to me, and I just couldn’t do it. Finally made it up around 9am, and headed down to the hotel restaurant for a quick breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, baguettes with Nutella, and some good strong coffee. What’s not to love? The very nice dining room of the Casa Canut:

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After breakfast, I wanted to mail a few postcards, so wandered the town trying to find the local post office to mail them. I’d purchased postcards and stamps the night before and wrote the out over breakfast. The walk was a nice wake-up, and I got another good view of the ferris wheel in daylight:

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Then, it was time to drive. Checked out of the hotel around 10:30, and the doorman brought Pépé the Smart Car around for me.  First stop was Llívia, a small Spanish enclave completely surrounded by France. The route highlighted on the map below is the route I took into Andorra from Spain. I was planning to go out the east side on the yellow road you see, and head down the E9 highway to Llívia. This border of Andorra was supposed to be much, much more mountainous, and a very scenic drive.

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Total travel time was forecast at one hour and 13 minutes, so I was expecting 1:30 to 2 hours with stops along the way for photos:

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Leaving Andorra la Vella, some amazing views:

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Jun 022014
 

Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures for this part of the trip. I’ll chalk it up to good conversation and not really “playing tourist.” Despite that, I got a fantastic intro to Medellin!

It was nearly 3pm by the time my taxi safely delivered me to my hotel, the Four Points Medellin. The taxi fare was fixed from the airport, so there was no need to negotiate or anything. So far, I was enjoying Medellin – all the people I encountered were quite pleasant, and the city seemed quite green, clean, and fairly orderly.

Got to the check-in counter, where I had to wait more than ten minutes to check in due to just two other customers in front of me. Then, ran into part one of the problem – neither of the front desk workers were willing to (or were unable to) speak any English at all. I finally got my point across to them: I wanted to check in, I was an SPG platinum member, and would prefer an upgraded room or suite with one bed. Unfortunately, the hotel was completely sold out, and the only room they could give me on my cash and points rate was a basic room with two beds. Ugh. After discussing for a bit they told me to go up and use that room, and they would see in an hour what they could do.

Got to the room, and it was clean and comfortable enough, with plenty of outlets/etc, and the air conditioning worked quite well and the room was a comfortable temperature. More importantly, the speed of the WiFi was quite good, and I had no trouble doing a high-bandwidth teleconference for work. After about an hour they called back, and they had indeed found me another room. Would I like a room with a patio and a king bed? Absolutely…and they sent staff up to get my bags and do the move for me. Quite a nice touch, although still not a single word of English was spoken by anyone.

The view of the patio in the upgraded room:

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Unfortunately, I got stuck on several work calls in a row, and it was after 5pm when I was finally able to venture out and explore. First stop was a quick trip to the mall/grocery store around the corner to stock up on water and a few basics. It was a very modern well-stocked store that would have been at home anywhere in North America – I was incredibly impressed.

After I got back to the room, I managed to get in touch with Judd, a member of FlyerTalk who I’d been getting some advice from on things to do. Unfortunately it was really to late to go explore the city, but he was walking over to my hotel, and there was a good place to get a beer within walking distance. Count me in! He’s an Australian who’s been working in Medellin for a couple of years, and had some fantastic insights into the city. I love meetings like this, because you get a much deeper appreciation in a much shorter time when someone who knows the city well offers to show you around.

Found a nice quite place for a beer maybe a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel, or two…or three. I forgot that Australians consider drinking a competitive sport! By this point we were quite hungry, and it had started to rain, so we hopped in a cab to find somewhere to eat. I’ve forgotten the names of all the places we went, but hopefully Judd will chime in and I can update this post. We ended up for dinner at a brewpub type place, that had hundreds of bottled beers on the menu, along with their own homebrews which were really quite good. Add in a quite good burger and it was the perfect end to to a long day. No, I didn’t get to go out and play tourist, but with work running way longer than planned, I still feel I got a nice intro to the city…and can’t wait to go back!

After a good night’s sleep I was up early for a short run around the neighbourhood, and it was nice seeing the city come to life. Check-out of the hotel was slow and inefficient, just as check-in had been, but the staff were incredibly friendly and tried hard. They just seemed very new and unsure of how to handle some rather basic procedures.

Mid-morning Judd and his wife picked me up at the hotel, and offered me a ride to the airport…with a stop at a local restaurant for breakfast on the way. It was absolutely delicious, good local food (including chicharrón – YUM) and supposedly the President (I believe it is?) stops by here when he’s in Medellin as well. Good, local, non-pretentious cooking…and it was the absolute perfect ending to a short into to the city.

I’m incredibly grateful to Judd and his wife not only for showing me around, but also for the lift to the airport. Their generosity made this short stop so, so much more than it would have been otherwise, where I would have been at the whims of TripAdvisor etc! Soon after a late breakfast they dropped me at the airport, and it was off for the next stage of the adventure!

Dec 252013
 

Given my experience getting to my hotel on the way into Moscow, I decided to leave for the airport a solid 4.5 hours before my flight just in case it took four hours again. No such experience this time, and in right around an hour I was at Domodedovo Airport for my flight to Vienna.  Check-in went pretty quickly, and then it was off to passport control and security, which also was really quick.  Soon I was in the lounge with over three hours before the flight – ugh.  Oh well, better early than late!

Good planespotting from the lounge:

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A Saravia Yak-42 – not a plane you see every day!

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Uzbekistan Airlines…making up for the photo I couldn’t get when I flew them back in May.

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